Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay is a writer who cuts hard, and cuts deep. Her short stories, collected in Difficult Women, are precisely observed portraits of human misery and unwarranted suffering—very often, at the hands of terrible men. The sisters in the first story in the collection, ‘I Will Follow You’ were abducted and raped over decades. The only way that the narrator of ‘Break All The Way Down’ can escape the spectre of her dead child is through being abused by a sadistic boyfriend. The story for which the collection is named is an anatomy of the ways that men categorise women—“loose women,” “crazy women,” “frigid women,” and, finally, “dead girls”. Gay’s women can’t escape, even in death, for “Death makes them more interesting.”
If Gay’s difficult women are all-too often subjected to the depredations of dreadful men, it’s this very difficulty, their intractability and sheer will to live, that very often allows them not just to survive, but to live. In ‘How,’ two sisters escape the alcoholic father they are forced to care for, driving off and never looking back. In spite of this, the characters whose lives Gay sketches are never one-dimensional, never written to prove a point. Rather, the sheer, vivid intensity of Gay’s prose comes about because her stories are populated by such vivid, intense people. Difficult Women never feels prurient, but rather, raw, harrowing, and unflinching.
Corsair kindly provided me with a review copy of Difficult Women.